Tow a Vehicle with an RV

RV Towing Car

Early on in our planning, we realized we wanted to tow a vehicle behind our RV as we toured the country. We need a way to get from the RV park to all the sights, right? From that point on, we had so many questions. The first was, where do we even start?! The second, (slightly more productive question) was, what are the options? And they just kept coming from there.

In this article I review some of the most popular options and their pros and cons. I also cover some of the laws related to towing, because not getting arrested or fined is a good thing.

A few quick notes:

  • You may hear towed vehicles referred to as a “toad” (get it?) or a dinghy. It all means the same thing in the end, and I use the terms interchangeably in this article. We refer to our towed car as The Hare, because our RV is named Carl the Tortoise (get it? GET IT?!).
  • I’ve listed some commonly recommended brands below, but these are not necessarily our recommendations, just ones that we’ve seen mentioned often by others.

Fifth Wheel, Class C, Class A…?

Some people know early on what type of RV they want to drive. However, if you haven’t made up your mind but you’re sure you want a toad vehicle, there are different factors that may influence your buying decision. We thought about this quite a bit and for us the main decision points were cost, room, and drivability.

We purchased a Class C RV, and here’s why:

Cost

We don’t have a truck, so setting up a fifth wheel/truck combination would have been more expensive for us.

Room

We needed enough room for a family of four plus dog, so anything like a Class B, pop-up camper, or a truck camper weren’t for us. But there are only four of us (plus dog), so we don’t need crazy amounts of space like some of the travel trailers and fifth wheels offer.

Drivability

We both felt like we could drive a Class C and tow a vehicle more comfortably than we could drive a truck towing a fifth wheel. We also liked the idea of being able to move each vehicle independently. Some of the roads we’ve been on on our trial runs have been reaaaallly tight and it’s good to know that if we hit them with the toad and it is too much for us to handle, we can disconnect and one person can drive the RV and the other drive the car.

Almost anything you can do towing-wise with a Class C can also be done with a Class A. But things will be different if you’re using a fifth wheel/truck combination. As a result, most of the information below is only useful if you are driving a Class C or Class A RV. If you’re already driving a fifth wheel, the information below will help you make an informed decision the next time the question comes up.

Ways to Tow a Car with a Class C or Class A RV

There are two common ways and one rarely used way to tow a vehicle behind a Class C or Class A:

Four down

This refers to towing a car in neutral, attached with a tow bar. You’ll need to invest in an auxiliary braking system and wiring (more on this below).

  • Pros: once installed, it’s easy to hook up and unhook your towed car; security that the car won’t come loose during travel; equipment usually doesn’t need to be stored
  • Cons: only certain makes and models of cars can be towed four-down; the equipment is expensive

Two-wheel dolly

Towing a car with front wheels off the ground.

  • Pros: tow just about any vehicle; dollies are less expensive than four-down equipment
  • Cons: equipment must be stored when not towing, which can be difficult or more costly in some locations; hook up can be time consuming and not much fun; straps may need to be tightened periodically while traveling

Auto trailer

Towing a car completely off the ground on a trailer. This approach is the most rare due to the cons below.

  • Pros: save wear and tear on your car
  • Cons: adds lots of weight, which may exceed your RV tow weight limit; all the same cons as a two-wheel dolly but more so

And the same information in a helpful table:

MethodProsCons
Four Down
  • once installed, it’s easy to hook up and unhook your toad

  • security that the car won’t come loose during travel

  • equipment usually doesn’t need to be stored
  • only certain makes and models of cars can be towed four-down

  • the equipment is expensive
Two Wheel Dolly
  • tow just about any vehicle

  • dollies are less expensive than four-down equipment
  • equipment must be stored when not towing, which can be difficult or more costly in some locations

  • hookup can be time consuming and not much fun

  • straps may need to be tightened periodically while traveling
Auto Trailer
  • save wear and tear on your car
  • adds lots of weight, which may exceed your RV tow weight limit

  • all the same cons as a two-wheel dolly but more so

After reading up on it, we decided to tow a vehicle four down. It is the simplest solution, assuming you have a car that can be towed four down or are up for getting one. We didn’t have one initially, but the cost of getting a cheap older model (but reliable, of course) with manual transmission was worth it to us.

For other perspectives, you can find lots more information to help you make a decision at:

RV Towing Laws

Each state has its own laws regarding towing requirements. These are mainly aimed at big rigs, but apply to motorhomes too.

(Want to see a breakdown of the laws? Check out Brake Buddy’s Towing Laws article.)

If you’re traveling cross-country like we are, it’s safest to just go ahead and meet all the requirements before you hit the road. Here’s what you’ll want for towing four down, along with some commonly recommended brands.

Tow Bar and Safety Cables

What are they?

The tow bar is the bar you attach to the back of your RV to tow a vehicle or dolly. You can choose an RV-mounted tow bar or a car-mounted tow bar. RV-mounted bars may be more expensive, but can easily be stored under the back of the RV. Car-mounted tow bars are attached to your car via a coupler and require more setup every time you attach and detach your car.

Safety cables are a second connection from your vehicle to the RV – if the tow bar somehow comes unhitched from your car, the safety cables will keep your toad connected. Most tow bars come with safety cables, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to invest in some separately.

Commonly recommended brands:

  • Ready Brute tow bar with braking system
  • Blue Ox
  • Roadmaster
  • Demco

Tow Base Plate Bracket on your Car

What is it?

You’ve got a tow bar to connect to your vehicle, but what are you going to connect it to? That’s where tow base plates come in. Using a base plate ensures that the tow bar is connected securely and safely to your vehicle. (I recently checked the owner’s manual for The Hare, and the built-in connector that allows the vehicle to be emergency towed is only for towing up to 1 mile at 10 mph!)

You also need to keep your tow bar level with the towed car, so you may need to invest in a drop hitch if your RV base is higher than the tow base plate. Bonus: This leaves your RV’s tow hitch free for a bike rack or other mounted feature (make sure you don’t exceed your tow weight limit!).

Commonly recommended brands:

  • Blue Ox
  • Custom Roadmaster
  • Demco

Auxiliary Braking System with Breakaway

What is it?

An auxiliary braking system connects the brakes of your toad to your RV brakes. When you press the brakes in your RV, your toad’s brakes also work. This is important, because the added weight of the towed vehicle will increase the braking distance needed for your RV. The added braking system can mean the difference between a safe stop and an accident.

Many auxiliary braking systems come with a breakaway system. If your towed vehicle disconnects from your RV while in motion, the breakaway will trigger your car’s brakes. If your auxiliary braking system doesn’t come with a breakaway, you’ll want to purchase one separately.

To learn more about braking systems, check out:

Commonly recommended brands:

  • Ready Brute tow bar with braking system
  • Blue Ox auto-stop
  • M&G (only if your RV has air brakes)
  • US-Gear Unified Brake Decelerator
  • Brake Buddy – box in the driver’s seat. Requires installation every time you hook your dinghy back up for towing.

Light Kit

What is it?

To legally tow your vehicle behind your RV, your toad must be wired to your RV so that the tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals operate when your RV’s lights operate.

You can use magnetic lights that sit on top of your car’s trunk, set up a lighting kit that sits inside your car’s light housing, or install a wiring kit that hooks up your car’s lights to your RV.

  • Magnetic lights are probably the cheapest and easiest to install, but may mark up your car’s paint and require installation every time you hook up your car for towing. Best for infrequent towing.
  • Lighting kits that sit inside your car’s lighting housing are a more permanent solution that bypasses your car’s wiring system. You have to have enough room in your lighting housing to fit them and installation can be a bit tricky.
  • Wiring kits that hook into your car’s lighting system are the best for permanent setup – no visible wires, no extra lightbulbs – but have the hardest installation.

Commonly recommended brands:

  • Roadmaster
  • Demco
  • Blue Ox
  • Hopkins

How Much Will this cost me?

Ok, take a deep breath. Did you take a deep breath? …

Between the base plate, tow bar, auxiliary braking system, breakaway system, and lights, not to mention installation costs, towing systems can cost between $800 and $3,000.

We haven’t bought all the equipment yet for our tow vehicle, but that’s a top priority for the next few months. Here’s what we’re leaning towards at the moment, but this may change. Make sure to sign up for the newsletter for updates about what we learn!

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